by Len Lear
“For all the wit and fantasy, ‘Meet John Dough’ is a reasoned and impassioned affirmation of this country’s enduring values. I loved it!”
This is a totally objective blurb about “Meet John Dough, Superhero; a Political Fantasy,” a spectacularly illustrated book released last week by locally-based Nyoka Press. This sparkling gem was written and illustrated by Lucy Bell W. Jarka-Sellers, a Germantown native who attended Germantown Friends School K-12 and then taught Classics and Philosophy, both of which she had studied at Harvard and Cornell, at GFS for another 13 years (2002 to 2015) before turning to art and writing full-time.
So who wrote the totally objective, flattering blurb above about the new book with illustrations by the now-Mt. Airy resident who is also a descendent of the legendary artist Charles Willson Peale, founder of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts? The author’s mother, Lucy Bell Sellers, who wrote the “Ancient Song of the Passenger Pigeons,” wrote the blurb; that’s who! And if she cannot be objective, who can?
“I think I was an artist and an illustrator even when I was a child,” said Jarka-Sellers last week. “In lower school at GFS I wrote lots of stories and drew lots of pictures. Then art and academics were integrated. After that I felt I had to choose. So I began to flip-flop between art and academics, both of which I loved. Of course, we always drew a lot at home: we children and my parents, too.”
In the new book about healing a troubled and divided nation, Jarka-Sellers introduces us to a superhero from a unique source: the mixing bowl of a grandmother in her Germantown kitchen. As “Alida” listens with incredulity to the latest outrages perpetrated by the newly installed Trump administration, she and her dog Buddy wonder who will protect American democracy.
The answer lies in the dough, for the yeast that Alida has collected from the air in her kitchen turns out to be extraordinary. As “John Dough” takes shape and exercises his unique powers, Jarka-Sellers’ narrative unfolds in a mixture of prose, poetry and 36 lively illustrations, both touching and satirical, that take us from Northwest Philadelphia to Washington D.C.
How did this unique idea for “John Dough” come about? “Like many people,” explained the artist/author, “I was very distressed by the election of Donald Trump and horrified by the news I heard on the radio. I make most of the bread my family consumes, and I often make it from local yeast that I capture from the air. As I was kneading my bread dough, the idea came to me of a bread dough hero who would solve all our problems.”
Jarka-Sellers, 53, grew up on West Stafford Street, near the Chelten Avenue train station. “I associate my childhood in Northwest Philadelphia with the things I didn’t find to the same degree in the other places I went,” she recalled, “such as the big, handsome deciduous trees, the old houses made of local stone, the multicultural environment and the Quaker families I knew who didn’t see success in terms of worldly achievement. These elements are all present in John Dough, except, I think, the second.”
Jarka-Sellers always felt deeply and thoroughly connected to GFS. Her three older siblings also went to GFS, and her mother taught drama there. “I took all sorts of connections for granted,” she said. “Even though I loved my work at GFS, I really wanted to write and draw. I kept coming up with ideas for stories and pictures, but I didn’t have time to do them. I know that the work I am doing now is the work I’m meant to be doing.”
The former Germantowner who has now lived in Mt. Airy for three years loves her current neighborhood. “I do all my errands on foot; I walk our dog in Carpenter’s Woods and in the Wissahickon. All the members of my family go to the High Point Café to write and study and meet friends. Our neighbors are friendly and helpful and kind. I can ride my bike to Chestnut Hill and Germantown. I take the train downtown. The only negative is that I miss my friends and neighbors in Germantown.”
How does Jarka-Sellers think we can survive the next three years with the unqualified, uninformed, dangerous narcissist in the White House that inspired her new book? “He’s doing so much harm,” she replied. “I think it’s hard to undo political corruption. Like many people, I put my hopes in Mr. Mueller, though when you see the line of succession, impeachment doesn’t seem a cure-all. John Dough deals with that problem, though. He finds a way to get rid of everyone.”